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Removing entrenched working practices to deliver productivity improvements must go hand in hand with pay negotiations, according to Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines.
Speaking on the eve of the first of three days of strikes – taking place today, 23 and 25 June – by members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Haines expressed disappointment that an agreement had not been reached.
A pay deal of 2% with “no strings attached” backdated to January 2022 with two 0.5% increases in September and November this year, which were linked to productivity, was rejected by the RMT on Friday. The RMT has called for a 7% payrise for its Network Rail members, who mostly work in signalling and maintenance. RMT members of the train operating companies have also walked out but the pay negotiations for those members are not part of the Network Rail discussions.
“We have had extensive conversations with the union which kicked off in December 2020,” said Haines. “Since then we have made a lot of progress but there are two issues that have led us to this point.
“Inflation has changed immensely in that period of time and there is an expectation for a payrise beyond anything we have had in recent years. The other issue is entrenched working practices within the industry and there was a hope that the Covid shock would drive change to more efficient practices. However, those entrenched positions have proven to be more entrenched than we had hoped for.”
Haines described some of the practices as being “like the 1950s” in terms of demarcation between which division is responsible for what and how they will or will not work with each other. As an example, Haines pointed to the length of discussion needed to implement a trackworker safety tool that was brought in as a result of the fatal accident in Margam in July 2019 where two trackworkers were killed. “We have people doing jobs that don’t need to be done that way and could be done much more safely using new technology,” he said in relation to use of drone footage for track inspections as an example of the reforms he is calling for.
Haines acknowledges that the reforms could result in the loss of 1,800 maintenance jobs from a workforce of 10,500 but he believes most could be achieved through voluntary redundancies.
“If we were just looking at either one [inflation or practice reforms], then we could have reached an accommodation before now,” he added. “We have demonstrated to the RMT that we are able to pay more than the public sector pay guidelines if there is genuine productivity [improvements] agreed to.”
Haines added that agreement on the proposals has come close to being settled a number of times ahead of the first strike.
“One of the challenges is that we are trying to avoid the fudges of the past where we have agreed what productivity is in vague terms, which then never materialises,” he explained. “In the past we have enhanced pay and conditions but we have failed to deliver the savings and the cost of the industry goes up. That is a management failing and I don’t blame the unions for that but, in today’s financial world with passenger volumes as they are on Mondays and Fridays, that is not part of a sustainable railway.”
Speaking about the length of the discussion process, Haines said that Network Rail has very detailed plans and knows what it is trying to achieve and how much it is trying to save but said that the train operating companies are not in such a good position. “They have not had the same run up as Network Rail and the RMT is negotiating collectively with them,” he added.
This article first appeared on www.newcivilengineer.com
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